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Meatpacking Workers in Danger?; Florida Set to Begin Reopening Process; Promising Drug to Treat Coronavirus?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 29, 2020 - 15:00   ET


DR. PHILIP BREEN, FATHER OF LORNA BREEN: She was retrieved and brought back by her family to Charlottesville, Virginia, where she was hospitalized for a brief period of time, judged well enough to be out on her own, but clearly was not better.


And her sisters told me that you could see in her eyes that there was something not there.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Our thoughts and prayers with that family and her hospital community.

Thank you for being with me.

Our special coverage continues now with Kate Bolduan.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Hell, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Thank you so much for joining us this hour.

The numbers continue to be staggering. Now over 59,000 Americans have been killed by the coronavirus, with well over a million people in this country infected.

That backdrop makes this news all the more important. For the first time, we're really able to say there is optimistic news on a possible coronavirus treatment. Dr. Anthony Fauci announcing from the White House just a short time ago new data on a study of the antiviral drug remdesivir.

Listen to this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: It is a very important proof of concept, because what it has proven is that a drug can block this virus.

And I'll give you an example in a moment of why we think, looking forward, this is very optimistic.


BOLDUAN: Dr. Fauci notes, of course, that this is not a proven treatment, but evidence so far very good news.


FAUCI: The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut significant positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery.

This is really quite important for a number of reasons, but we think it is really opening the door to the fact that we now have the capability of treating. And I can guarantee you, as more people, more companies, more investigators get involved, it is going to get better and better.


BOLDUAN: It's really noteworthy.

A lot to get to this hour.

Let's start with CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen on this.

Elizabeth, I was also struck that Dr. Fauci, he compared this moment to a moment 34 years ago when they first saw progress with the HIV drug AZT. That was a huge turning point in the fight against HIV. What do we know about this drug and this trial?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. It certainly was a huge turning point all those decades ago. And he seemed to be saying, we could be headed into a similar situation.

It didn't end HIV, but it got us on the right path.


COHEN: So let's take a look at the data that Dr. Fauci presented, because this is so important to look at the actual numbers.

When you look at the mortality rate of the 1,000 people in this study in the U.S. and abroad, the placebo that they gave patients, in other words, a pill that does nothing, those patients had an 11 percent mortality rate during the course of the study.

People who took remdesivir had an 8 percent mortality rate. He said that there doesn't seem to be a statistical significance to that right now. They need to have more people in the study, but it's certainly headed in the right direction.

And here's where you get the statistical significance. When you look at duration of illness, how long these people had to stay in the hospital before they were discharged, on placebo, it was 15 days. On remdesivir, it was 11 days.

So what that tells you is that the drug was doing something. It is not a cure, and we don't want anyone to think it's a cure, and if you just get remdesivir, you're going to be fine. That is not the case at all. But it clearly does something good, which is why Dr. Fauci said, this needs to be the standard of care.

This needs to be what we're giving everyone, because it does seem to have some advantage. And, Kate, to your point, he said it's really a proof of concept. If this particular drug with this particular mechanism of action worked, we can build on that. We can learn from that, move forward, and come up with even better treatments.

BOLDUAN: It is there anything known about any possible side effects?

COHEN: Yes, there is a little bit known.

Now, we should say, this is an experimental drug. It's never officially been on the market for anything. It was invented for Ebola and given to Ebola patients and given to patients with COVID. And in both, they have found elevated liver enzymes sometimes. They have found that.

They don't know if the drug caused it, but they have definitely seen that. So, the authors of a recent "New England Journal of Medicine" article said, look, we need to study these side effects more, because the last thing we want to do, of course, is make these patients even sicker.

But these elevated liver enzymes, moderately, maybe a little more than moderately, are definitely something that doctors have been looking at.

BOLDUAN: Look, and it's always you weigh the balance of the damage done by a side effect or saving life potentially, or, as we see here, significantly decreasing the amount of time that it takes to recover.

Good to see you, Elizabeth.


BOLDUAN: So, "The New York Times" is now reporting that the FDA plans to announce the emergency use of remdesivir in the wake of these positive results.

In a statement to CNN, an FDA spokesman put it this way and said -- quote -- "As part of FDA's commitment to expediting the development and availability of potential COVID-19 treatments, the agency has been engaged in sustained and ongoing discussions with Gilead Sciences regarding making remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible, as appropriate."


Joining me right now is Dr. Jennifer Lee, professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University and a CNN medical analyst.

Doctor, what do you make of what Dr. Fauci is talking about this morning and announcing?

DR. JENNIFER LEE, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Kate, it's very encouraging news, because, as everyone knows, to date, there have been no approved treatments for COVID.

And I think what we're about to hear about potentially even later today is the very first approved treatment by the FDA for the coronavirus, and it's very encouraging.

Now, I think we haven't seen the published data yet from this NIH trial. But what we're hearing, again, is that there's a significant difference and improvement in the time to recovery for this group of hospitalized patients.

And I think that's another important point, is that these patients with COVID had to meet certain criteria to be in the trial. They had to be admitted to the hospital, which means they had to have -- they also had to have a low oxygen level. They had to have changes on their X-ray. They had to have some changes in their lung exam, like crackles or wheezing or something, that was abnormal.

So this is not for people who have mild or no symptoms, who are not admitted to the hospital. And it is still an I.V. drug, but it is encouraging to have this first treatment.

BOLDUAN: And when you talk about -- let me ask you about that, when you talk -- Dr. Fauci talking about the recovery time and that that is significant in the findings, 11 days vs. 15 days in the hospital.

You have been on the front lines of this. How significant is a four- day difference?

LEE: Well, you know, some of these -- it could be very significant from a number of perspectives.

So, some of these patients -- again, we haven't seen the data that will specifically say who was enrolled and what characteristics these patients had. But, certainly, some of them probably were very sick, maybe even on a ventilator, spending many, many days in the hospital.

And so, from the patient's perspective, of course, any time you can shorten that hospital stay by even just a little bit, it's significant.


LEE: But then, when you think about from the hospital side, and the capacity to treat, whether you're talking about ventilators that are available or hospital rooms or just the staff needed to treat patients, the more that you can minimize that stay in the hospital, the more it expands the capacity, of course, to treat the population in general.

So I think it is significant.

BOLDUAN: Let me play something else that Dr. Fauci said, because I think everything that he said in this moment in the Oval Office was really important for people to hear about why he is talking about this now, instead of waiting for this to get a full and formal stamp of approval. Listen to this.


FAUCI: The reason why we're making the announcement now is something that I believe people don't fully appreciate.

Whenever you have clear-cut evidence that a drug works, you have an ethical obligation to immediately let the people who are in the placebo group know, so that they could have access. And all of the other trials that are taking place now have a new standard of care.

So, we would have normally waited several days until the data gets further -- dot the I and cross the T. But the data are not going to change. Some of the numbers may change a little, but the conclusion will not change.


BOLDUAN: What do you make of that, Doctor?

LEE: Again, to me, it's very encouraging.

You know, what Dr. Fauci describes is not an uncommon practice when you're talking about clinical trials, especially for conditions where there aren't any approved treatments.

When you start to see a significant difference in the experimental group compared to the control group that shows something positive in favor of that experimental treatment, then there is an ethical obligation to say, well, we need to be able to offer this to those in the control group, that placebo group, and to other patients out there who are suffering and who, again, we don't have any treatments for right now.

So, I think that makes me even more encouraged. And we also heard, again, about the FDA potentially even moving on this with an emergency use authorization for remdesivir.


LEE: I also want to note, though, that there's going to be more data coming out very soon about remdesivir that's going to give us clarity about how to use this, when to use this, for whom.

Coincidentally, just today -- and this might be confusing a little bit to some -- there was a study that was published in "The Lancet," another placebo, controlled, randomized trial of remdesivir among 10 different hospitals in China.


And it actually did not show a difference in the time to clinical recovery. So, it's a smaller -- it's a smaller study. It's only about 200 patients, compared to this one, which is over 1,000. And so this one that's much larger, you can give more weight to. It has more power to it.

But the study in China can give us some clues, because perhaps some of those patients were less sick. And maybe that will give us an indication again of, who is remdesivir best used for?

And, again, want to note that this is an I.V. drug. So it really is right now just for hospitalized patients.

BOLDUAN: Yes, this is -- all of that information is going to be not only interesting, but important to get out.

Doctor, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

LEE: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: So, from that to the push to reopen the country accelerating this afternoon.

Nearly 20 states are allowing some businesses to reopen this week, this despite the fact that, as you look at the map, it appears not a single state in the country has met the vague White House guideline of a 14-day downward trajectory of cases before reopening, though it should be said, of course, it's not exactly clear what the White -- how the White House is defining a downward trajectory in its guidelines.

Florida is the latest state to begin the process of reopening.

Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to outline his plans any moment now.

Joining me right now is CNN's Randi Kaye, who's in West Palm Beach.

Randi, DeSantis teased this announcement when he was meeting with the president yesterday. Do we know anything more about what the governor's plan includes?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't have a whole lot of detail, Kate, but we can probably expect him to give us an update on the stay- at-home orders, what he's lifting, what he's not lifting, what could reopen today.

Right now, you can probably see this beach here behind me. The beaches do remain closed for now. We will see if he addresses that.

But we will likely see DeSantis take more credit for keeping the number of coronavirus cases down in the state of Florida, even though we know that he didn't put in that stay-at-home order until the very end of March. Some cities and counties actually took action before him, about 10 days earlier.

The city of Miami actually canceled two major music festivals trying to keep those numbers down. So he may give himself another pat on the back. We will see. But he will also probably have to address a report in "The Tampa Bay Times" today reporting that the Florida Health Department is asking the medical examiner's offices to withhold data and that they have been doing so at the request of the Florida State Health Department.

They have been told, according to the paper, that the state wants to review the list and may even redact some of it. They may also want to take off a number of the cases and get rid of the case descriptions, which only leads us to believe that there could be some fuzzy math here in terms of the numbers of cases that we're seeing here in the state of Florida, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and some media outlets have even had to sue to gain access to more of the records. That's how hard it has been to get access to what it normally is, public information.

Great to see you, Randi. Thank you so much.

Coming up: President Trump ordering meat processing plants to stay open, even though thousands of workers have gotten sick. So what can be done to protect workers and also avoid a food shortage?

And, later, when will stadiums like this one see action again? Dr. Anthony Fauci also weighing in with an outlook that is likely to disappoint potentially a whole lot of sports fans -- the details ahead.




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I just got off the phone with the biggest in the world, I mean, the biggest distributors there are, the big companies that you have been reading about.

They are so thrilled. They're so happy. They're all gung-ho. And we solved their problems. We unblocked some of the bottlenecks.


BOLDUAN: That was President Trump saying today that meat processing plants across the country are thrilled with this new executive order requiring them to remain open.

That might be true, of course, coming from executives, but what about the workers? Remember how we got here. Plants were closing across the country because thousands of employees and workers were becoming infected with the coronavirus and they needed to shut down.

The meatpacking facilities in the Green Bay, Wisconsin, area, they now account for more than half of the confirmed cases in that county.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is in Green Bay with more on this.

Omar, you're in one of the hardest-hit parts of that state. What are you hearing about the impact of the president's executive order now?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. Well, a lot of companies and workers are trying to figure out what

exactly that executive order means for them, because, as you mentioned, it's one of the hardest-hit places in the state.

And, in part, due to the workers -- or the numbers we've seen from these meatpacking facilities, it is now the highest infection rate in the state in this county.

Now, the impact isn't just here in Wisconsin, this type of impact. We have seen this in plants across the country, thousands of workers that have either shown symptoms or had been hospitalized throughout this coronavirus pandemic, at least 20 that have sadly died, and more than 20 plants that have closed over the course of the past two months at one point or another.

And here in Green Bay, there are three plants that are being affected by this pandemic and seeing confirmed cases, JBS, American Foods Group, and Salm Partners, JBS the only one that has had to close throughout this.

But another important aspect in this entire story is, when you look at the demographics of employees that are being infected here, 35 percent Hispanic, 20 percent black, but the 35 percent Hispanic is the highest percentage among minority groups that we have seen in places across this country.

I spoke to one worker here in Green Bay who works at, again, one of these meat processing plants that has been affected. And he says, by his estimation, 90 percent of the people he works with are Hispanic, and that Spanish is definitely the first language that is spoken in their plant.


And they say that they are nervous about potentially coming to work, scared in some cases. And while the person I spoke to wasn't undocumented himself, he says he knows many undocumented workers that are fearful of even speaking to management, for fear that they won't be asked to return, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and that adds to all of the anxiety and what this means, then, if they're being told that they need to go back.

Omar, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Joining me right now for some more perspective on this is David Michaels. He's the former and longest serving head of OSHA, which is, of course, the federal agency tasked with ensuring worker and workplace safety.

Thanks for coming in.

As Omar just reported, we know that many of these workers come from communities that are being disproportionately impacted by the disease. How do you ensure the safety of these workers? Is it clear to you right now how to get it right, if they're being -- if these meatpacking processing plants are being told they have to open?

DAVID MICHAELS, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF LABOR: Well, telling them they have to open is a terrible mistake.

We know how the job can be done safely. And the reason these are being closed is not because overzealous governors or public health authorities are forcing them to close. It's because the employers, the meat companies didn't take proper precautions when they showed up, when the recommendations were out there.

And there's no OSHA rule that says they have to do it. And so now consumers are scared. Workers are terrified. You can do it right. They should have done it right a couple of months ago.

But what President Trump has done, he said this -- we solved the bottleneck, we're going to make you stay open. It's a disaster for workers. We're making these workplaces, these meat plants human sacrifice zones.

BOLDUAN: Because the real question now is, what does this executive order, what does it mean for workers, the workers for whom the plant -- the plant might be open, but they not might not feel safe going back yet.

I mean, I ask this because this is exactly what Iowa's governor had -- has been talking about just in the last couple days. And listen to what she said about this.


GOV. KIM REYNOLDS (R-IA): If you're an employer and you offer to bring your employee back to work, and they decide not to, that's a voluntary -- what's the word I'm looking for -- pardon?


REYNOLDS: Oh, quit. OK, a voluntary -- see, we don't have it happen very often. It's a voluntary quit. And so, therefore, they would not be eligible for the unemployment, the unemployment money.


BOLDUAN: In this environment, that's an impossible thing to ask of people.

I mean, how do you see this?

MICHAELS: That's right.

Essentially, what these governors are saying is that, if you don't -- you have got to choose between putting your life on the line, your health on the line, or your income on the line.

Workers correctly are scared of -- and it's getting worse, I have to tell you. The poultry plants throughout the South have requested permission from the USDA to speed up the lines, not to slow things down. And we need to slow them down to be able to put workers six feet apart.

But they have gotten permission to speed up the lines and to offer a little bit more money. So they're offering essentially a little bit more money to come in and really risk your health, or stay home and lose all your salary and not get unemployment benefits. It's wrong.

BOLDUAN: From what -- I mean, you come from the experience -- you come from -- with immense experience when it comes to workplace safety.

From your perspective, are you comfortable in this moment of workers being told, going -- they should be heading back to work in these plants, which we have seen have shown clusters, have become clusters of coronavirus outbreak?

MICHAELS: No. It's outrageous.

I'd like to see those governors, I'd like to see those CEOs spend the day at -- on those poultry lines, on those pork lines, shoulder to shoulder with those workers, given the same lack of personal protective equipment.

And at the end of that day, say, what do you think? Should we get everybody back in here every day?

BOLDUAN: You have -- I have seen in a previous interview that you have given OSHA an F in terms of a report card and how they have handled themselves as an agency in the midst of this crisis.

How important is this federal agency? How important is the role of OSHA in this next phase, when businesses will start reopening, states will -- are starting to reopen?

MICHAELS: That's exactly the right question.

We need to reopen the economy, but, if workers are terrified, and they're all going to be going back to situations like these poultry workers, like these pork workers have, they're not going to want to go back.


And if they do go back without proper protections, we can easily have a massive second wave of this disease, which will set back the economy, in addition to killing too many people.

So, what OSHA to do is issue a very clear emergency standard, saying, every employer has to ensure that workers are safe. The law is very clear. OSHA can do that.

There is legislation in front of the House and the Senate requiring OSHA to do that. But the House and the Senate are not in session right now. And we haven't seen President Trump, we haven't seen Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia make any sort of effort to say that employers are required to keep workers safe. And that's -- OSHA has to be in the forefront of that. And right now,

the Trump administration, they haven't even put OSHA in the backseat. It's not even in the car.

BOLDUAN: And, look, many of these companies, they might be putting together plans for making the workplace safe in these new precautions and protective gear for workers coming into their businesses.

But one thing is for sure. They might be taking proper precautions, but they definitely across the board need to be clearly communicating that with the public and especially with their workers if they want people to come back.

Thank you so much. Great to see you, David.

MICHAELS: Great to see you. Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up for us: The United Kingdom is revising how it counts the number of COVID-19 deaths that they are facing, and it is showing a dramatic change in the death toll there.

We're going to take you live to London with the details coming up.